Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Keep your €100,000!

Something quite extraordinary happened in the Cois Fharraige district of South Conamara last Monday evening. A committee, which had spent two years voluntarily and on a "pro bono" basis working on a project authorised by the Government producing a comprehensive report and plan for the area, unanimously rejected €100,000 as the maximun amount of money to implement the plan.

The draft plan was presented to the people of the district at the end of last year. Subsequently the completed plan was submitted to Udarás na Gaeltachta and then to the relevant Government Department and was accepted by both bodies and indeed was welcomed by the Minister of State responsible Mr Joe McHugh when he launched them in September 2017. However when he welcomed them he advised that his Department was providing a maximum of €100,000 towards each of the plans in each Gaeltacht Area. This has now been rejected by at least one of the communities

So what went wrong.

The Gaeltacht Act, which was rammed through the Dáil in 2012, decided to place the onourous responsibility of language planning on each Gaeltacht Area. (Indeed this is the first act on Irish or the Gaeltacht not passed unanimously by the Oireachtas. Acht na Gaeilge in 2003, the act which instituted the office of Comissioner Teanga, was painstakingly put together and debated in each house and passed with the full agreement of all parties.) The 2012 act removed the democratic aspect of the Udarás na Gaeltachta from the people. An examination of the deficiencies appeared in this article in the Irish Times (3rd July 2012). In the event the Act was not properly debated and occasioned a walk out by the entire opposition before it was passed without a vote.

The Department then proceed to select the various areas (26 in all). These appear to be arbitrarily selected with little reference to the state of the language in the planning areas. In the Cois Fharraige area this is painfully obvious containing three types of areas as defined by linguistic experts. These are where the language is spoken by an absolute majority (western part of area), where it is less strong (the central area) and finally where it is quite weak (the part of the area closest to Galway City). One would have thought that even to the casual observer each of these areas would have different problems requiring different solutions. Nevertheless these areas are lumped together by the Department as one language planning area. Other Gaeltacht planning areas have been selected on the same haphazard basis. In recent days it has been reported that off the record comments from officials charged with approving these schemes had little or no expertese in the area of language planning.

These committees were given little direction from the Department and certainly they were given no directions or idea as to what finance would be available for the implementation of these games. Remember too that the members of the committees in each district are voluntary with little experience and had to seek advice from language planning experts. They were of course sensible people knowing that there would not be a limitless amount of funds available but assumed, foolishly as it now appears, that the Government wanted them to produce an effective workable plan suitable for the various sub-groups in the planning district.

A body called Fóram Chois Fharraige um Phleanáil Teanga (Cois Fharraige Language Planning Forum). This body is representative of many voluntary community-based organisations operating in the five school areas of Na Forbacha, An Spidéal, An Cnoc, An Tulach and Ros a’ Mhíl. Údarás na Gaeltachta awarded the contract for the preparation of a language plan to the Forum, a contract was signed and funding was provided to prepare a plan. Work commenced in 2014.

They arrived by the end of 2016 with an extraordinary, not to say impressive, document with costed recommendations for reasonable achievable goals in the period of the plan - 2017-2023. A pdf summary in English may be found here. The plan was prepared according to the guidelines set down by Údarás na Gaeltachta. "We estimate that the seven-year plan will cost approximately €250,000 to implement in the Cois Fharraige area. A new community-based and representative organization or company will be required to oversee the implementation of the plan."

Now it appears that the Department while accepting the plan is not prepared to ensure its success by providing the resources. They have moved the goalposts, they have castrated the plan and have shown contempt for the unselfish volunteers.  The plan  is now rendered inoperable and the work of the voluntary members of the committee is wasted. The money already spent on the funding of professionals by the state is also down the drain. This is the reason the Forum has rejected this decision of the Government.

The working Group for Corca Duibhne (West Kerry) have announced that they are supporting the Forum too. And there are reports that the body responsible in Gaoth Dobhair (Donegal) has in fact already disbanded.

The Coimisinéir Teanga made the following statement in 2015 (my translation) "...from my interpretation of the language planning process, with which I have no direct connection, it appears that the heavy burden has been placed on the local communities and I query if the state system is prepared to carry its own part of this burden. Maybe it is more correct to ask if the Gaeltacht people are being asked to shoulder more of the burden of the language than the State itself?" (August 2015)

It would appear that the State has now answered this question and it appears that the endangered Gaeltacht Communities have buckled under the strain.